Charlotte years ahead of Civil Rights learning curve - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Charlotte years ahead of Civil Rights learning curve

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, but there were steps taken in Charlotte before it became the law of the land.

Darrell Williams and his architectural firm offer the example of living blueprints from the Civil Rights Act.

"Without that, it would be a whole lot worse, and so I think it gave people a tremendous amount of hope that we could live in a society to where it doesn't matter what the color of your skin is," he said.

Hope would come to the city of Charlotte several years before, decision makers across the city did what they could to avoid the violence that occurred in Birmingham and other parts of the South.

Local historian Dr. Dan Morrill says progress came at the hands of firm leadership.

"It was troubling and leadership of this community," Morrill recalls . The business leadership of this community, the political leadership of this community came together and said look we are going to see that Charlotte avoids that."

Charles Jones helped integrate the city's lunch counters.

Four years earlier in July of 1960, the local legal barriers were removed.

He said, "We didn't have violence here. We didn't have confrontation and yelling and screaming, and racial stuff visually."

While opening up lunch counters offered one example, another came in the previous decade when local schools started graduating integrated classes.

Gus Roberts was the first of his race to finish Central High in 1959.

Tom Hanchett is a historian with the Levine Museum of the New South.

"Charlotte showed the nation that desegregation could happen. That it could be good for a city," he said.

However, a half century later some feel that President Johnson's signature only went so far.

Williams agrees, "I think since 64, things have gotten better, but there's still a lot more work to be done."

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